When homicide detective Chris (Tom Meeten, "Prevenge") arrives at a crime scene, his partner Jim (Dan Renton Skinner ("High-Rise," "Prevenge") tells him the great mystery is how both victims continued to advance on the shooter after each had been shot multiple times. Chris suspects the rental agent, Coulson (Rufus Jones, HBO's 'The Casual Vacancy'), who let them onto the property and, after discovering the man had been seeing psychiatrist Dr. Helen Fisher (Niamh Cusack, "Testament of Youth"), he goes undercover as a patient in order to track down "The Ghoul."
Writer/director Gareth Tunley's moebius strip of a movie is a puzzle piece like "Memento" crossed with the satanic tone of executive producer Ben Wheatley's "Kill List" and Simon Rumley's "The Living and the Dead's" unsettling portrait of mental illness. If at first it seems disorienting, that is part of a design which includes its cinematography (Benjamin Pritchard) and ever changing, cyclical score (Waen Shepherd). The pieces begin to fall into place quickly, preserving its mystery at least until we arrive at the midpoint of its circumference.
Chris arranges with Jim's girlfriend Kathleen (Alice Lowe, "Sightseers," "Prevenge"), the woman he is obsessed with, to call Fisher's office, allowing him time to access Coulson's file. But in short order, we learn Chris has been seeing Fisher for a month, the taciturn man slowly opening up to reveal his daydreams about being a detective stripped of his duties for something 'someone else has done,' who is, nonetheless called into cases. He tails Coulson, but the man turns the tables, confronting Chris. They discuss their mutual doctor, Chris telling Coulson Fisher has referred him to her mentor, Morland (Geoffrey McGivern, "Onegin").
Morland turns out to be an irreverently humorous chap, his office housing occult books and artifacts, like the sigil hanging on his wall. Chris compares notes with Coulson, who's begun popping pills and drinking. After Coulson takes him to a particularly strange party where Tommy Parnell (Paul Kaye, "Dracula Untold") unspools one very disturbing story (the scene is one of the film's highlights), Chris awakens in a strange room. Coulson calls to frantically warn him against Morland. Morland, in turn, warns him that Coulson is very dangerous. Who to trust? Chris creates his own sigil to 'Bring Kathleen to me.'
Tunley's psychological thriller keeps turning the screws, events becoming ever more sinister after Morland enters the picture (McGivern calls to mind "A Clockwork Orange's" Patrick Magee). Chris is photographed as if he's at the bottom of a cavern, his tiny room dwarfing him inside, buildings looming over him out, camerawork which begins shakily handheld ironically turning smoother the creepier things get, unsteadier as the film builds to its climax. Shepherd's dynamic score ranges from ethereal gloom to Hitchcockian to gothic harpsichord - and back again.
Why "The Ghoul" never secured a theatrical release in the U.S. is almost as big a mystery as the one it presents. It's only failing is that one can guess where it's going, yet Tunley keeps us enthralled through its closing minutes, the two sides of his mobieus strip joined yet separate. Arrow Video brings this gem of a film to the home video market on September 12.
The blu-ray contains a commentary track by writer-director Gareth Tunley, actor-producer Tom Meeten and producer Jack Healy Guttmann. "In the Loop" is a 36 minute documentary about the making of the film that reveals most of its cast and crew as comedians connected through Ealing Live, Edinburgh's Fringe Festival and Ben Wheatley. Tunley aimed for comedy, but found nothing ever really came together, revealing that "The Ghoul" was inspired by his bad moods and how a lack of money required imagination (a producer's own home provided multiple sets). He also talks about the long road to get his film seen, noting he's being interviewed 18 months since wrapping his film.
Also included is "The Baron," a 9 minute 2013 short conceived by and starring Meeten which Tunley directed, a mix of humor and horror which serves as a bridge from their beginnings to their first feature.
Robin gives "The Ghoul" a B.
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